The two faces of conflict and their outcome

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Author, Date of the post, WMO Conflict Insight, Title of the post,  ISSN: 2628-6998, 

Interaction with human beings often brings misunderstanding which confirms the fact that “the history of human societies, as well as everyday experience on interpersonal conflict, show that driving forces of conflict are very strong and may pull us strongly towards destruction” (World Mediation Organization 2008, 158). However, there are interactions that often generate conflict and in the end, the outcomes are positive. Conflict is an unavoidable manifestation in any society. This is because the human environment is diversified and there are interactions of human beings with different beliefs, opinions, power, desires, goals, values, needs and preferences, feelings, and emotions. Conflict is, therefore “the outgrowth of diversity that characterizes our thoughts, our attitudes, our beliefs, our perceptions, and our social systems and structures” (Weeks 2014, 7). This diversity can be found in the workforce, families, and the larger society. The root causes of conflict are large to be found in poor governance, failure to distribute benefits, human rights violation as well as environmental degradation (Natural Resources Conflict). Diversity is therefore a healthy aspect of human society and can open potentials, challenge us to consider alternatives, and keep us from allowing ourselves stagnant (Weeks 2014, 33). As ambiguous as it may be, conflict means different things to different groups in a different context. When we encounter a conflict, it can change the way we think and challenge us towards the growth or destruction of relationships. Conflict to a greater extent has always been viewed as negative. Conflict should instead be viewed as part of a useful and complex relationship that can provide opportunities for growth.

The conflict has many phases or process models which include communication where people interact, exchange information, and relate with others with the aim to understand the situation (World Mediation Organization 2008, 92). The second phase includes detection and perception which is when two individuals are aware that there is a conflict. Though there may later realize it was just a misunderstanding and in order instances both parties may recognize that there is a conflict (World Mediation Organization 2008, 93). Phase three involves coping which is dealing with the actual conflict, a stage where conflict translates to actions. Within these phases there are no appropriate styles to handling the conflict but competing, collaboration, compromising, avoiding, and accommodating are some categories identified (World Mediation Organization 2008, 94). Phase four is manifestation and deals with peoples’ behaviors towards a conflict as it becomes visible from minor disagreements, bloodshed, and even war. The last stage deals with the outcome regardless of whether there are good or bad (World Mediation Organization 2008, 95).

 The core feature of conflict transformation in conflict. The conflict transformation approach understands conflict as a multi-dimensional, social phenomenon essential to social change (World Mediation Organization 2008,82). The conflict transformation framework composes of conflict management which entails activities undertaken to limit, mitigate and contain an open conflict (World Mediation Organization 2008, 218). In another sense, it is composed of actions and processes which seek to alter various characteristics and manifestations of conflict by addressing the root causes of the conflict. The conflict transformation framework is made up of levels which include conflict prevention or crisis prevention, which are activities undertaken in particularly vulnerable places at times over a short to medium term that seek to identify situations that could produce violent conflicts and reduce the manifestation of tension (World Mediation Organization 2008, 219). Conflict resolution levels are activities undertaken with the aim of overcoming deep-rooted causes of conflict. Thirdly conflict settlement is a level where there is an achievement of an agreement between parties to the conflict. Lastly, there is the peace-building stage which is a generic term to cover all activities to encourage and promote peaceful relations and overcoming violence (World Mediation Organization 2008, 220).

The traditional conflict resolution approach is all about a win in a negotiation without reservations paid to the overall relationships for the future (Weeks 2014, 10). Mediation here becomes a dispute resolution tool that is suitable to technically complicated problems and politically sensitive issues (Natural Resources and Conflict). It usually brings the parties in conflict together so that they can present their demands and most often parties are angered that their opponents are making such unrealistic demands (Weeks 2014, 66). These ineffective aspects to conflict resolution included conquest, avoidance, bargaining, quick fix or band-aid, and role player. These approaches create the illusion that the problems of conflict have been addressed. These traditional conflict resolution approaches are mostly used in mediation, arbitration, and reach the middle-level conflict resolution where parties to conflict come to some mutually acceptable agreements that settle a conflict, and the lower level when one party conquers the other or when the relationship is dissolved with mutual damage.

To move beyond the traditional conflict resolution approach towards effective and sustainable conflict resolution, something else is required. There is the conflict partnership approach or process to conflict resolution which focuses both on the immediate conflict and the overall relationship, providing skills that are not only conflict resolution skills but relationship building skills to reach what is referred to here as top-level conflict resolution (Weeks 2014, 10). The conflict partnership process to conflict resolution embodies the following steps in the order listed which include creating an effective atmosphere, clarifying perceptions, focusing on individual shared needs, building shared positive power, looking to the future and learning from the past, generating options, developing doubles – the stepping stones to action and lastly the mutual benefit agreement.

The conflict partnership process is a process that aims at empowering people and groups to build mutually beneficial relationships and resolve conflicts effectively. It constitutes five basic principles concerning how we can effectively deal with a conflict (Weeks 2014,63). The first principle is aimed at avoiding the confrontational I-versus-you pattern usually found in a conflict and adopting a healthier attitude of “we” making the interaction one of partnership where each party needs the other for the conflict to be dealt with successfully. The second principle is that conflict should be dealt with in the context of the overall relationship meaning that a single conflict should not define the entire relationship and how this conflict fits into the overall relationship should not be ignored. The third principle has it that conflict resolution will have to do with improving the relationship in the long term instead of harming it. The fourth principle states that a conflict resolution should result in mutual benefits where each party to the conflict feels they have received something of benefit from the process (Weekes 2014, 64). And lastly that the skills are used for both conflict resolution and to establish and nurture healthy relationships (Weekes 2014, 65). Unlike the traditional approach, conflict partnership focuses on needs, perceptions, goals, potentially shared power, and possible commonalities of the conflict partner, not the combative and often unrealistic demands (Weeks 2014, 67).

Every relationship and conflict involves the power that can be used positively or negatively. Power consists of attitudes, perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors that give people and groups the ability to act or perform effectively. In the conflict partnership process, positive power is employed to deal with conflict effectively and to improve relationships by adopting and acting on attitudes, perceptions, beliefs, and behaviors that produce positive results. There are three types of positive power operating in relationships and in conflict and they include self-power, the partner’s power, and shared power (Weeks 2014, 148). Positive power seeks therefore to promote the constructive capabilities of all parties involved in a conflict, it energizes a “power with” process rather than a power over pattern and avoids the misguided conception that weakening the conflict partner will somehow strengthen one’s own power (Weeks 2014, 151).

Positive self-power is about having a clear self-image which involves being clear and honest with ourselves and overseeing oneself in a conflict situation. Individuals can gain self-power by developing their skills and using them effectively (Weeks 2014, 155). Conflict partners should help to activate the positive power in each other to avoid the damaging seesaw power approach which creates the illusion that one partner is more powerful than the other. Shared needs are referred to as critical building blocks on which conflict partnership constructs its process, but it is shared positive power that constructs the process and moves it towards effective conflict resolution. Shared positive power happens when both partners combine their powers, therefore causing it to flow from a partnership atmosphere and ranging from clarified perceptions of the self, partner, the conflict, the relationship and it makes relationships effective and conflict resolution successful and lasting (Weeks 2014, 159).

Conflict is therefore an engine of social learning (World Mediation Organization 2008, 80) as it reveals issues, whether there are dealt with destructively or constructively. Conflict should therefore be viewed as an opportunity for social change (Kleiboer 2012, 382). Though stock with a cost of conflict, conflicts also have benefits and are often driven by a sense of grievances so engaging in it provides the means of addressing these concerns by either affirmation a position of advantage or overcoming perceived shortcomings (World Mediation Organization 2008,79). To this end, conflict should be embraced if humanity wants to progress. Humanity should see the conflict partner as a friend and not as an enemy. This will help to avoid the damaging effect of conflict and magnify the positive side of the conflict. It will also provide the room to activate the positive power in each other.  With this kind of attitude towards conflict resolution, the tendency is that both parties to the conflict will be able to identify their conflicts and negotiate while at the same time building and exercising the skills they acquired to sustain the conflict resolution and to handle future conflicts. With this approach to conflict resolution, communities will be empowered since conflict range from individuals to groups and it will become a way of life as people explore the positive aspects and outcomes of conflict.


Marieke, Kleiboer. Understanding Success and Failure of International Mediation. 2012. Accessed 4 December 2018.

United Nations Department of Political Affairs. Launch of “Natural Resources and Conflict: A Guide for Mediation Practitioners”. 2015.  Accessed 4 December 2018.

Weeks, Dudley. Eight Essential Steps to Conflict Resolution. 2014. 23 November 2018.

World Mediation Organization. Anthological Correlation: Mediation & Conflict Management. 2008. Accessed 13 October 2018.


20 thoughts on “The two faces of conflict and their outcome”

  1. Dear Keble,

    thank you very much for this article and deep reflection. As you may remember, we had a video chat the other day and I would like to share here one of the statements that we discussed. It perfectly matches with the first paragraph of your paper and the point of view that conflict forms a natural part of our social life. I truly want to challenge this statement, but only because I accepted it for so many years without questioning the inner truth that might be found somewhere hidden in a ‘peaceful’ community.

    I believe we should ask ourselves what the term ‘conflict’ means to us and how come that it should form a natural part of our lives. If I recall correctly, the word conflict has its roots in the latin term ‘confligere’ what means ‘towards a solution’. Actually, this does not help me and my current understanding, but this may be due to the nowadays use of the term ‘conflict’. I strongly believe that we have many challenging circumstances in our social life that make us progress and improve in many senses, like: discussions and competitions. And exactly these terms and circumstances belong to a natural and healthy social environment, while they are based on mutual respect, positive thoughts, and constructive intentions.

    Accordingly, I believe that conflict is born when we face situations where no respect, no positive thoughts and no constructive intentions are included. In this case a discussion turns out being offensive, negative thoughts rule an individual’s mind, and destructive intentions make people behave unfair. Due to this point of view, I believe that progress and the corresponding engines form a natural part of our lives, but not the negative perspective that gives birth to what I understand to be conflict.

    I guess you know that I am a fan of your analytical writing skills and that there are so many positive things to say about your article. I only wanted to state how I questioned my proper understanding and how it changed. Maybe it also makes sense to you.

    Best regards, Daniel Erdmann

    1. Dear Prof Erdmann,

      Thank you for this succinct comment and i must reassure you that after discussing your challenge to the generic definition of conflict, i felt enlightened and equally challenged to always think out of the box .

      It is great you made mention that this view is applicable in somewhat peaceful communities, to me this means that if the UNICEF concept of Peace Education is applied in all communities, a generation will arise that will hold discussions based on mutual respect, positive thoughts and constructive intentions as you rightly said.

      At this present dispensation, empowering individuals with the conflict partnership approach skills will give conflicts a chance to bring such positive outcomes.

      That conflict forms part of our natural daily lives is an undisputed fact based on the very complex, competitive and litigious society we live in. The question that posits itself is, however, whether it is an inescapable part of our lives, and I believe that is your point of disagreement or departure if I got your comments correctly. Mind boggling as it may be, a more in-depth look into the meaning of conflict from the perspective of a driver of social change I will not hesitate to agree with your view. Other than the social changes that conflicts may bring, there are far much more devastating effects that conflict results into that are in most cases irreversible especially as far as the conflicting parties are involved. The face of the conflict that we see in modern times is for, instance the conflict in countries like Syria, Somalia, and the acts of terrorism across the globe. In those instances, an argument that conflict has beneficial attributes will not make any logical sense to the parties involved and even to those watching from a distance.
      The other issue to consider while embracing conflict is whether there are other factors other than the conflict that contributes to social change and if so, what are their levels of contribution in comparison to conflict. Such a contrast in my view would inform the decision or opinion on the extent to which to embrace conflict. On the other hand, all said and done we cannot wish away entirely the positive contribution of conflict towards social change as examples abound of where conflict has brought more good.
      Approaching this subject, therefore, needs objectivity and critical analysis of every circumstance and ascribe meaning of conflict purely on the basis of that conflict. You are therefore correct to disagree, but I believe your disagreement or otherwise should be qualified to the different circumstances

  2. As you have mentioned, ‘conflict is an unavoidable manifestation in any society’; there is no society without conflict because everyone has different beliefs, needs, and emotions. Even in a family, between siblings, there is conflict especially conflict of interests and beliefs. It is normal because each person has his/her own feelings and ways to understand things. It is also the same approach for a country with different ethnic groups; each group fights to protect its own interests. That the reason there is the conflict between different ethnic groups in a country even they all are children of the same nation. Moreover, we cannot ignore also the interstate conflicts because all nation-states fight for their own interests. However, the conflict could be easy to resolve if, in the mediation process, the mediator (s) could persuade all actors in conflicts to be tolerant and accept to deal with each other i.e. accepting the right of each other.

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